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The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class: Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion

1
Department of Archaeology, Ghent University, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
2
Department of Comparative Sciences of Culture, Ghent University, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2020, 11(4), 181; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040181
Received: 21 March 2020 / Accepted: 9 April 2020 / Published: 11 April 2020
The classical account of the Brahmin priestly class and its role in Indian religion has seen remarkable continuity during the past two centuries. Its core claims appear to remain unaffected, despite the major shifts that occurred in the theorizing of Indian culture and in the study of religion. In this article, we first examine the issue of the power and status of the Brahmin and show how it generates explanatory puzzles today. We then turn to 18th- and 19th-century sources to identify the cognitive conditions which sustained the classical account of the Brahmin priest and allowed for its transmission. Three clusters of concepts were crucial here: Christian-theological ideas concerning heathen priesthood and idolatry; racial notions of biological and cultural superiority and inferiority; and anthropological speculations about ‘primitive man’ and his ‘magical thinking’. While all three clusters were rejected by 20th- and 21st-century scholarship, the related claims about Brahmanical ritual power continue to be presented as facts. What accounts for this peculiar combination of continuities and discontinuities in the study of (ancient) Indian religion? We turn to some insights from the philosophy of science to sketch a route toward answering this question. View Full-Text
Keywords: Indian religion; Brahmin; ritual; priesthood; Aryan invasion theory; magical thinking; homology; Vedism Indian religion; Brahmin; ritual; priesthood; Aryan invasion theory; magical thinking; homology; Vedism
MDPI and ACS Style

Keppens, M.; De Roover, J. The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class: Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion. Religions 2020, 11, 181.

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